Wait No Longer

We've all heard the Wildcat mantra which, like clockwork, has historically been used by desperate Tucson natives after each football loss to the Sun Devils, which, through the past decade has habitually put an end to yet another sub-par, bowl-free season for one of the Pac-10's most historically mediocre football programs: "Wait until basketball season!"

More often than not, the Sun Devil faithful have dismissed the trademark sour grapes response and have continued right along celebrating another winning football season and retention of the Territorial Cup rivalry trophy, which has been virtually fixated in ASU's Athletics Hall of Fame since the Clinton administration.

Prior to Wednesday's overtime win over the Wildcats, it had been nearly six years since ASU had last beaten Arizona in men's basketball, a streak which had resembled the bowl game drought for which the Wildcat football team has become infamous.

However, a seed was planted in March of 2006 with the hiring of Herb Sendek as Arizona State University's head men's basketball coach.

That seed began to grow with a gutsy debut season for Sendek and staff, which, despite a losing record in 2006-07, eventually captured the hearts and captivated the imagination of Sun Devil fans that began to believe that the a change was in store for Sun Devil basketball.

The puzzle pieces grew closer with a signing class ranked by Scout.com as No. 16 in the nation, highlighted by the addition of guard James Harden, a five-star prospect out of Lakewood (Calif.) Artesia High School and generally one of the most highly anticipated recruits in school history.

Not to take anything away from former Sun Devil tight end Zach Miller, but James Harden is The Truth, making his first game against the rival Wildcats one to be remembered, scoring a career-high 26 points in a fashion that has quickly become his trademark; a ballsy, aggressive and fearless style of play.

Call me crazy, but by the time it is all said-and-done, 26 points will be far from a single-game career-high for Harden.

Beside individual play, something intangible is elevating this team; something not dissimilar to what exalted this year's football team, however it is something that historically has been much more rarely found in Wells Fargo Arena than it is over at Frank Kush Field.

The fire and intensity are there, a never-say-die attitude that was prevalent with the Devils on the gridiron has burst its way to the hardwood.

It creates momentum, it enables success and it sparks enthusiasm in fans. Such was the case this past football season, creating a string of three sold out games at Sun Devil Stadium, and that same element surfaced Wednesday against the Wildcats with a rare packed house at Wells Fargo Arena, with nearly 14,000 maroon and gold maniacs rattling the foundation of ASU, literally and figuratively.

Much like football games against Oregon State, California and even Arizona, in which the Sun Devils fought back against adversity and overcame early deficits, the men's basketball team withstood early jitters (scoring only four points in the first ten minutes) and cold shooting to rally back and outlast the Wildcats in overtime.

That rally was possible because of the defensive intensity, directly affected by the raging sea of gold surrounding Ned Wulk Court. It was also made possible by accountability and discipline, which enabled Ty Abbott and Jeff Pendergraph to avoid fouling out of the game and for the offense as a whole to perform more soundly during the second half and overtime.

The end result came in the form of a 64-59 overtime victory over Arizona in front of a packed house on campus, improving ASU's record to 13-2 and a perfect three-for-three thus far in Pac-10 play.

Added to that, making the dish a little tastier is the idea that the Devils could sneak into the top 25 rankings for the first time since 1995.

There's something about the current state of affairs in Sun Devil athletics that really makes a fan feel that change is on the horizon.

No longer a football team barely scratching out a winning record, no longer a men's basketball doormat and also a baseball powerhouse coming off two College World Series trips in three years and will be ranked near the very top of the polls at the start of this season.

Is ASU spearheading a paradigm shift or have the stars simply been aligned for the Devils in the first half of the basketball season?

The story remains to unfold, however the pieces are in place and the Pac-10 Conference is officially on notice that this Sun Devil team is unlike any we have seen in several years, if not decades.

The alarm clock is blaring for "Sleeping Giant", and he's smellin' breakfast.

So, to respond to what many of us have heard for years, most recently on Dec. 1 of this past year:

We waited until basketball season, and the scoreboard still read the same result.

What are you waiting for?

Joe Healey is a 2006 graduate of Arizona State University and will be a guest contributor to Devils Digest during the 2007 football season. He currently writes for ASU's Maroon and Gold Illustrated and his work has also been featured in Sun Devil football media guides and other official team publications.

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